Sometimes people who have caused harassment or have been accused of abuse in communities will text into the Games Hotline for emotional support.
Why would we talk to people who may have harassed, abused, or harmed others? Aren’t we anti-harassment? Well, what we know is that harassment happens in an ecosystem, and we’re committed to shifting the greater culture in games to end abuse and harassment. That change won’t happen without talking to and offering support to folks who have caused harm when they reach out for help.
So whether someone is coming to us feeling embarrassed or angry after an outburst, overwhelmed and isolated after being kicked out of a community space, scared and ashamed after hearing accusations, or frustrated after a heated exchange in-game, we’re here to listen.
We think of our role in these conversations as holding the door open for change. We start with these fundamental beliefs:
- People can change for the better, and it would matter if they did.
- For people to better themselves, they must feel supported.
- Each of us is more than the worst things we’ve ever done.
But what does that look like, while also staying survivor-centered? Well, let’s start with what we don’t want to do. We’re not in the business of investigating or reporting the truth of what happened, punishing people based on our judgement, or lecturing and educating someone in their moment of distress.
At the same time, we don’t necessarily want to offer justification or agreement with everything that they’ve done. So we’ve been learning how to use our compassionate conversation skills with some careful considerations during these types of conversations:
- Zooming out to reflect and emphasize the underlying feelings they might be expressing, rather than scrutinizing smaller details.
- Validating their feelings of distress without endorsement of their actions or beliefs.
- Encouraging respect for the victim’s boundaries. Asking if there are other people they could process their feelings with, or exploring other options for support that don’t directly involve those harmed.
- Not reinforcing victim blaming or usages of oppressive language.
Chats like this can look so many different ways and go so many different directions, depending on the situation and what the person texting in is looking for. But basically, we listen to all that they’re struggling with, reflect back the values and feelings underlying what they expressed so that they feel heard, and offer space to identify goals or further support moving forward.
Sometimes, people just want to cool off here so they don’t take the aggression back into a game. Other times, someone might just want space to talk things out so they don’t feel as overwhelmed or confused. Or, maybe someone wants to process their shame, regret, and/or embarrassment in an anonymous space.
We’re grateful that people are willing to share these types of experiences and feelings with us. It’s not always easy to talk about mistakes, fears, or uncertainty. We know we are just one stop along each person’s journey. Our ultimate hope is that people will feel like they can come to us as they are, and that we can offer a brief moment to pause and perhaps even interrupt some of the usual cycles of toxicity as they typically play out in games spaces.
These conversations can be really challenging. We’re constantly learning, improving, and trying different things. Fortunately, none of our agents are doing it alone either; we always have supervisors and clinicians available during shifts, and it’s wonderful to be a part of the passionate team that makes the Games Hotline possible.